Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query camp cookware. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query camp cookware. Sort by date Show all posts

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Camp Cookware

To keep the cost down when you're first getting started, you can usually just bring along some of your home cookware. The biggest downside is that it may get blackened, lost, damage the handles, or even melted using it on a campfire. As long as you take care to avoid melting down your aluminum pots in the campfire and are prepared for the extra cleaning, using your home cookware is an acceptable and economical solution, at least to begin with.

A more convenient option is to put together a set of cookware specifically for camping. If you camp in an RV, it can be stored in the cabinets, ready for immediate use. If you're a tent camper, store it in one or more plastic totes, chuck box, or portable camp kitchen you can bring along. Either way will make your outings more convenient. Having a set of cookware set aside especially for camping means you don't have to worry about getting your kitchenware blackened and you'll already have it ready to go for each outing. To keep the cost down, pick up some used pots, pans, and utensils at a garage sale, online auction or classified site, or thrift store -- or just recycle some old stuff you have at home. Thrift stores usually have an abundance of cookware.  For the most durable albeit heavier to transport option, look for cast iron cookware. It is practically indestructible and will easily withstand use directly in the campfire. It also distributes heat evenly for better cooking.  For greater convenience and less weight to pack around look for cook sets designed specifically for camping. The major components will stack to fit inside each other to they take up less space in your RV or camp box. New camp sets can be found starting at $12.00 - $30.00 a set so they're not terribly expensive. These are often made of light weight aluminum so you're better off using them in an RV or on a camp stove instead of in the campfire. Some, more expensive sets (think $100-$150), are stainless steel and will stand up to more intensive use and last longer. These camp cook sets are light weight and designed to take up as little room as possible, a real advantage when space is limited. Having sufficient space in our RV, we like to carry some cast iron cookware along with our camp cook set so we can sometimes take advantage of cooking directly on the campfire.  Some camp cook sets even include several (usually 4) place settings so you have cook ware and dinner ware all in one package.  And it is designed to all fit together in one pot for easy storage.

Dutch ovens and other cast iron cook ware are good choices for functionality and durability. You won't want to haul them around when you're hiking or backpacking unless you want to turn your hike into a high stress upper body workout, but they are excellent options for RVs and base camps. I like to think of dutch ovens as pioneer crock pots. You can simmer a meal for hours and have a full meal in one pan. Line them with aluminum foil to make clean up faster and easier. Cast iron skillets and griddles are ideal for cooking directly on the campfire. Remember you need to season cast iron before using it or after any aggressive cleaning or washing with detergents. Avoid cleaning cast iron with soap and detergents. Just rinse them out with hot water and wipe them clean. One of the best cleaners for cast iron is a wad of old newspaper. A final wipe with paper towels will ensure you can be confident it is clean. Cast iron griddles and grills are great for pancakes, bacon and eggs, hamburgers and steaks.

Cooking utensils. You'll need many of the same cooking utensils at camp that you use at home. For camp you may want larger or sturdier versions, especially if you plan to cook over an open campfire. Wooden spoons and stainless steel utensils are durable. Extra long handles are usually helpful. Plastic and other synthetic options are acceptable, but are less durable than steel. I also like speckleware or graniteware spoons and ladles. They have a kind of nostalgic appearance I find matches the camping ambiance well. They're also pretty easy to clean and they aren't likely to get mixed up with any home items you might have brought along. You may even find they make interesting conversation pieces, especially if they have any family history. Even if the ones you have weren't passed down, they may be LIKE ones your grandparents used to use and that can provide both pleasant memories for you and interesting anecdotes for your companions. Restaurant size and quality utensils are a good choice, but an be kind of pricey if you get them at a restaurant supply store. They are usually extra large (which comes in really handy when cooking over a campfire) and durable. They don't have to be expensive. I've seen some pretty nice looking stainless steel pieces a my local dollar store. I keep a set in my RV and a second set in my tent camping totes. My wife liked some of my camping utensils so well that she snagged them for the kitchen and I had to look for replacements.

What do you really need? Ultimately what you need is determined by what you plan to cook, what you'll be cooking on, and what you like to cook with. If all you ever intend to cook are hot dogs, you can get by with a couple of wire coat hangers. I like to keep a variety of pots and pans in my motorhome or camper and in my tent camping totes. Your basic cook set should include at least one frying pan and one pot. For greater convenience you'll probably want a couple of different sized frying pans and at least a couple of different sized pots. Those with metal or other heat resistance handles will withstand fire, but the handles will get hot so plan on using heavy gloves, pot holders or a wooden or metal pot lifter to move them about. A coffee pot is handy, even if you don't drink coffee. It is a good way to heat water for other hot beverages and for cleaning and medical use. You'll need some mixing and serving utensils. I like to bring along a couple of big spoons, at least one large meat fork, a couple of spatulas, and at least one ladle. You'll also need basic cutlery -- a paring knife and a medium sized butcher knife are probably sufficient for most needs but if you have room for a more complete set it may make some chores easier (like a bread knife for slicing bread). If you go for a complete set of cutlery, plan to store it in a wooden block to keep things organized and protect the sharp edges -- and protect your fingers from the sharp edges! You want them to stay sharp yet not be where you're going to get cut on them. Having them loose in a drawer or tub contributes to both dulling the edges and accidental injuries. In your RV you may want to secure the storage block to a counter top or inside a cabinet for additional safety. I use small bungee cords or velcro to anchor the block in my RV. You can glue the block inside your tent camping tub.  Clever idea I recently saw in the "Quick Tips" section of motorhome magazine (submitted by a subscriber) was to make a vertical storage block about 1" thick that attached to the inside wall of the pantry.  It kept all the knives safe and handy and when the door was closed, they were secured safely for travel and used hardly any space.

If you like to cook and plan any special meals you will probably want to include other favorite kitchen tools. You will want to be somewhat choosy so you don't weigh down your camp kit or your RV or camp totes with unnecessary items, but feel free to include whatever makes your food preparation easier or more fun. What is an unnecessary toy to one person may be essential to you. You can get by peeling vegetables with a paring knife but you way want to add a peeler. You can chop nuts and veggies with a knife, but a chopper is faster and easier -- and more fun to use. Whether you bring along the specialty tools depends on how much room you have, how often you use them, and how much you enjoy using them. You might need an angel food cake pan for special occasions, but it probably isn't necessary for your basic cook kit. A small square cake pan takes up little room and can be used for a variety of purposes.

Military surplus stores are often a good place to purchase camp cookware. Your choices may range from individual mess kits to super-sized army mess hall pots and pans. For individual and family camping you probably won't have a need for a huge stock pot, but if you're planning a family reunion or any other large get-together one or more might come in handy. You will usually find an assortment of cast iron cookware at military surplus stores. Military cookware is designed to be rugged and portable, both desirable characteristics for camp use. Of course you can buy camp cookware at camping and outdoor stores and department stores like Walmart, K-mart, and Target. And, as mentioned above, thrift stores are often a good place to find cookware you can adapt to camping without spending a lot of money.

Emergency/survival cookware. If you get stranded in camp you'll have your camp cookware in an emergency situation, but if you have problems out on the trail, you'll have to improvise. Obviously, primitive people survived without modern cookware, so how did they do it? Many types of food can be cooked on a stick over a campfire. But what if you need some hot water and don't have a pot to heat it in? If you have an OHV, you might be able to scavenge a headlight can to use for a cooking pot. Lacking any kind of suitable metal object, form a rough bowl out of clay or mud. Fill it with water, and drop hot rocks into it until the water reaches the desired temperature. Some foods can be cooked on hot rocks. Place smooth, flat, non-porous rocks into the coals of your campfire. Why non-porous?  Porous rocks absorb water and could explode when heated!  When they're hot enough that water sizzles when dropped on them, brush off the coals and place your food on the rocks to cook. This works pretty well for things like eggs and breads or even meat and fish. Some foods can be wrapped in large leaves for direct campfire cooking. You can carve your own eating utensils from wooden sticks to make knives, forks, and spoons. This may take some practice, so don't expect your first attempt to yield restaurant quality items. Even crude utensils will beat using your fingers. But in a survival situation, etiquette is not your priority -- "fingers were made before forks" is more than just a clever excuse for eating with your fingers. In an emergency situation, it becomes a rule of survival. A sharpened stick may suffice for many foods.  So, why would you even want to carve eating utensils? For one thing, it gives you something productive to do, helping to take your mind off your troubles and improve your attitude. Adding some level of productivity and normalcy can also make life easier and more comfortable, helping to avoid panic. In many survival situations, water is scarce so you may not have many options for cleaning your hands before or after eating. Having functional utensils avoids contaminating your food and helps keep your hands cleaner. Hey, even a sharp stick or a pair of sticks used like chopsticks is better than nothing. If you do find yourself in a survival situation, take stock of your resources and use them to best advantage. Survey your surroundings and look for natural resources or discarded materials that you may be able to use. Things that you would normally consider trash might become treasures. An old tin can might be used for a cook pot. Plastic trash bags could become water bags or rain ponchos or part of the roof of your shelter. Be creative!

Happy cooking!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camp Kitchens

When we're camping we usually like to do a lot of our cooking outdoors, even when we camp in an RV and have brought an indoor kitchen with us. Some RVs now come with an optional outdoor kitchen. A lot of folks cook over the campfire, set up a BBQ, or use a camp stove outside instead of taking advantage of the home-like galleys in their RVs that compare favorably to their home kitchens. Cooking outside is especially advantageous in hot weather when it is good to minimize heating up the inside of your RV.  It is also nice to take things with strong odors outside so they don't pollute the interior.  The residual odors of yesterday's fish can be downright stomach turning after a day or two in a hot RV.   I picked up a big Camp Chef stove I like to use. It has much larger burners than a typical Coleman camp stove and grill/griddle options that provide a near professional method for cooking hot cakes or hamburgers. It also has a "BBQ Box" that turns it into an ideal cooker for burgers etc along with the pair of grill/griddles that are great for pancakes and steaks.. Cooking outside helps keep the RV cooler and avoids the accumulation of odors in the furnishings. There is an increasing trend toward "outdoor" kitchens in new RVs. Although manufacturers are claiming these are a new innovation, in reality they are an adaptation and re-creation of the kind of kitchen used by the teardrop trailers of yore. Some RVs now offer optional outdoor kitchens ranging from a BBQ or a sink and fridge that slide out from a curb-side storage compartment to full-wall units that include microwave ovens, refrigerators, sinks, counters, cabinets and even TVs. Some implementations are built in to the RV wall and you gain access by opening large doors that then serve as wind breaks. Some are on the curb side and others are on the rear (even more reminiscent of teardrop trailers). Some slide out perpendicular to the RV wall. A common feature is a swing-out or slide out BBQ tucked into a "basement" compartment. With many of these variations, you have everything you need to prepare and serve a meal and clean up in one convenient outdoor location, without having to constantly run in and out of your RV or overheat the interior.

RV galleys usually provide most of the conveniences of your home kitchen, often on a reduced scale. You will want to organize your RV kitchen to make it as easy and convenient to use as possible. Keep frequently used items like utensils and spices within easy reach. Stock your RV kitchen with the items you find most useful and enjoy using. Not everyone needs the same pots and pans and your needs may vary from outing to outing. Basic items like a frying pan and various sizes of pots are pretty much standard equipment for any camp kitchen. If you plan to do any baking, make sure you have the appropriate baking pans on board. A small, hand-held electric mixer will usually suffice for most camp recipes and takes up little room. If you're tent camping, a hand-cranked mixer will do the trick.  For RVs equipped with a built-in food processor base, acquiring the various attachments can add a lot of convenience. The basic unit usually includes a blender. Other typical options include a mixer, a can opener, an ice crusher, a juicer, and a knife sharpener. When using your RV kitchen be sure to provide plenty of ventilation. There should be a vent above the range but opening some windows and one or more roof vents for improved air flow will prevent a build-up of both stove exhausts and cooking fumes and odors. The limited space in the galleys of most RVs will restrict the number of people who can reasonably help in preparing meals, another reason outside cooking is popular.

Outdoor kitchens are by no means limited to fancy RVs. Pretty much by definition, if you are tent camping, your "kitchen" will be outdoors. Traditionally a tent camper's "kitchen" consists of a camp stove and an ice chest. A plastic dishpan or portable sink probably rounds out the features. That all works pretty well if you are in a developed campground with picnic tables where you can set up your "kitchen". But what if you are boondocking and there are no picnic tables? Well, of course you can bring your own folding table and you probably will want to for dining convenience. There are also a number of folding "camp kitchen" units available to help organize your outdoor kitchen. They are usually made of aluminum and collapse into a compact package 6" square or less. When opened up they provide a stand for your cooler, camp stove, cooking utensils, and sometimes even a little bit of counter space and maybe room for a dishpan or sink. Units like these are too large and too heavy for back packing, but for base camps and car camping, they provide a lot of convenience. They also make a good alternative for RVs that don't have outdoor kitchen facilities so you don't have to further heat up the inside of your RV cooking inside on hot days.  The run the gambit from simple stands for your camp stove to more complete units like the deluxe Camp Kitchen at Cabelas.

You might build your own chuck box, patterned after old time chuck wagons.  You can design it to fit in whatever available space you may have -- in your trailer, pickup bed, the back of an SUV or station wagon, or even to fit in the trunk of your car.  Here is a sample build it yourself chuck box  you might want to check out for some ideas.  For more information, see my post on Chuck Boxes.  Remember you'll have to load it into your vehicle and carry it to your camp site so don't make it too big!  If you include a sink, use a separate water jug to keep down the weight of the box.  Of course, if your chuck box is built in to your trailer, you don't have to worry as much about weight and can focus on convenience -- both for setting it up and using it.

Of course, you can always resort to more primitive methods, and that can be kind of fun. Re-discovering the techniques used by our ancestors can be interesting and educational. How did the American pioneers prepare their meals during long wagon-train trips across the plains? How did trappers and "mountain men" live for months and even years between trips to town? How do they make do during a "walkabout" in the Australian outback? How did the Aztecs, Incas, and American Indians handle routine household tasks without the modern conveniences we enjoy today? A little research on the Internet can answer many of these questions and give you some ideas for some interesting adventures. Learn how to cook meat and even bread on a stick over an open campfire. Try some "ash cakes". Swap your traditional Cheerios, cornflakes, or Fruit Loops for some old-fashioned corn meal mush. What facilities made up the "camp kitchen" of a wagon train or a cattle drive? Count on finding a lot of cast-iron cookware and perhaps a tripod among their preparations. Also count on finding easy, basic meals that can be quickly prepared with simple ingredients and limited resources. Like the cattle drive cook in the movie "Cityslickers" said about his grub: "It's hot, brown, and plenty of it!" Rustic camp furniture may not be as light weight and comfortable as today's camp chairs, but they were functional and, you might need to know about them if you find yourself in a survival situation. Need something to sit on? You can make a temporary camp stool from a couple of pieces of flat wood. Take one just a little shorter than from your knee to the ground. Stand it on end and balance another one, about a foot to a foot and a half long centered on top of it. With a little practice you can sit on this "one legged stool" quite comfortably. And even though you can't recline like you do in your favorite camp chair, it sure beats sitting the dirt or mud and is easier on your back and knees than squatting by your campfire to do your cooking.

Regardless of the type of camp kitchen you use, you want to make it convenient. Keep extra fuel handy, but safe from heat. Keep your pots and pans and utensils close to where you'll use them and well organized. Keep spices and flavorings within easy reach. Keep your food preparation area clean and try to clean and put away items as you use them instead of piling them up to wash after dinner. Doing them as you go will make it a lot easier to find items if you need to reuse them and will significantly reduce clean-up time after dinner. Cleaning as you go also avoids stuff "baking on" to implements. For a simple example, consider fried eggs. If you wash your plate while the residue is still wet, it is easy to clean. If you wait until it has dried, it will take a LOT of scrubbing and/or soaking to remove it. Residue in pots and pans can be even worse. Simply filling a pot with water after the food has been removed but while it is still hot will go a long way toward making it easier to clean when the time comes.

Portable camp kitchens can make meal preparation and doing dishes a lot easier in camp. These are collapsible aluminum frameworks that hold your camp stove and usually have a place to hang cooking utensils. The larger and fanciers ones will also have a shelf for a cooler and perhaps even a plastic sink and some counter space. Some have little wire-rack shelves to hold spices and/or cleaning supplies. A camp kitchen frees your picnic table for eating and avoids getting it scorched by hot stoves or greasy from cooking spills. Click here for an example of a basic Coleman Camp Kitchen.  There are links on the page so some of alternate versions too.  While portable camp kitchens are mainly designed for tent campers, RVers could use them as outdoor kitchens too.

If you are a tent camper, keep your kitchen stuff organized in plastic tubs so it will be easy to use when you need. it. We got so used to having everything "including the kitchen sink" in our RV that I found myself quite unprepared when I took my boys on a dirt bike outing using just our enclosed motorcycle trailer. The next time out, I had stocked a couple of plastic bins with basic camp cooking gear. Not only did they make the occasional trailer-only outing easier, I used them on a number of tent trips with the Boy Scouts. I included things like plastic utensils, plastic plates, bowls, and cups, cooking and serving spoons, dish soap, dish clothes, dish towels, paper towels, napkins, can opener, kitchen knives, some basic pots and pans, and some common spices like salt and pepper. For added luxury I tossed in some envelopes of hot chocolate. If you expect any kind of bad weather during your outing, or if you just want to be prepared in case bad weather comes, set up your camp kitchen to protect you and your food if things do "go south". If you need to cook in the rain, you'll need a tarp high enough to allow smoke and fumes from your fire or stove to escape and not be trapped where they will choke you and burn your eyes. A wind break might be in order too. DO NOT plan to cook in your tent! Cooking in your tent may cause a fire, could suffocate you and other occupants, and could infuse the fabric with odors that will make it nearly uninhabitable as they age. I suggest using separate tarps for your kitchen because they will get coated with cooking residue making them unsuitable for other uses.

Camp cookware. There are many options for camp cookware. If your budget is limited you can get by with bringing along some of your regular kitchen pots and pans. Just be careful about putting lightweight aluminum pans in the fire or overheating them on the stove. I've seen aluminum cookware melted down into puddles in campfires. If you are in an RV or are primarily car camping where weight is not a major consideration, cast iron cookware is a traditional camp standard. It is durable and generally provides even heat. You aren't likely to damage it in even the hottest campfire. Cooking with cast iron takes some practice and remember you need to "season" it before you first use it or after it has been scrubbed. To season cast iron cookware, coat the cooking surface with oil (shortening, butter, lard, bacon grease) and heat it until the oil burns away. This will leave a "patina" on the surface that is necessary for proper cooking. There are many camp "mess kits" on the market. They are usually made of aluminum so be careful not to melt them. Good camp cook sets are made to "telescope" or "nest" inside each other to conserve space. Often the lid for the big pot doubles as a fry pan. Many camp cook sets include plastic plates, cups, and flatware, kind of an all in one meal time solution. These are a good choice when space and weight is a major factor. A good, old-fashioned coffee pot is a good way to heat water for beverages and other uses. I use an the old "speckle-ware" pot. Be sure you have heavy leather gloves or a good hot pad to handle it, 'cause the handle WILL get very hot! Thrift stores and garage sales are good places to look for inexpensive items to build or supplement your camp cookware so you don't have to risk losing or damaging your pots and pans from home.

Survival cookware. If you get lost or your OHV breaks down far from camp you may find yourself in survival mode and without any normal cookware. This is definitely an opportunity to get creative. You can cook meats and breads (assuming you have a way to obtain the ingredients) on a stick or on a flat rock. You may be able to heat water in a clay pot -- form clay or mud into a bowl shape, fill it with water, and drop in hot rocks from your fire until the water reaches the temperature you desire. If you have access to large leaves you may be able to use them to wrap meat or fish, and vegetables together to make a tasty stew. The best place to cook one of these packages is in the coals. If you try to cook it over open flames, you will probably dry out and burn the leaves and set the whole thing on fire long before the food inside gets cooked. See what resources you have available. In a survival situation you might remove the headlight "bucket" from your OHV and use it for a cooking pot. In survival mode you may have to forage for food. Learn what plants and animals inhabit the areas where you'll be going before you get there and be on the watch during normal activities for edible plants and animal signs so you'll be prepared if you find yourself in survival mode. Learn how to make simple traps from natural materials.

Outdoor cooking in bad weather presents some special challenges. Tempting as it might be, cooking in your tent or under your RV awning or dining fly is NOT a good idea. You may have to hold an umbrella in one hand and cook with the other during rain -- or get a fellow camper to hold the umbrella for you. Sometimes in developed campgrounds there will be a canopy or pavilion you can use for protection. Rain or wind may make it difficult to keep your fire going at the right level long enough to prepare your meal. I've seen the time when it was so windy my gas BBQ would barely warm meat instead of cooking it! Plan ahead and try to schedule your cooking between squalls and keep plenty of dry firewood handy to keep your fire going. Wind can make things very difficult. Even gas-fired BBQs and camp stoves will need wind guards to remain effective and efficient. If you don't have wind guards to fit your stove, you may have to improvise using tarps and camp chairs to block the wind. Or have several people stand close together on the windward side to provide some shelter. I have seen creative campers stretch multiple tarps high over an entire campsite to protect a whole group of people from the rain. There was room for cooking on camp stoves and eating on picnic tables.  They kept the cooking near one edge and had the tarp high enough that it didn't present a fire or smoke problem. With the tarp high enough in the middle and an adequate vent opening they were even able to safely maintain a modest fire without smoking everyone out. Fortunately there was enough breeze to carry the smoke away. Often it rises up and gets caught under any roof and curls back down to annoy campers. If you MUST cook under any kind of awning or tarp, make sure it is high enough over the fire or stove so it isn't scorched or melted by the heat. Put your stove or BBQ near the edge of the awning, with the wind at your back (while facing out from under the awning) while you're cooking so smoke, fumes, and odors won't accumulate under the awning. Your shelter won't last long if it catches fire and then you'll be much worse off than when you started.

Have fun cooking out!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Chuck Box

The idea of a "Chuck Box" has been mentioned in several posts as an asset for camping.  So what is a chuck box?  It is kind of like a portable kitchen, mostly used for camping.  Since its likely that many people have never seen one, here is a link to project plans to build your own chuck box.  To some extent they are based on the trail proven techniques used to build chuck wagons for wagon trains and cattle drives in the Old West.  Ideally, your chuck box is a complete, portable camp kitchen.  If you camp in an RV you probably won't need a chuck box since all its features are built into your rig, but some folks like cooking outdoors and may find them useful.  There is even  a trend for RVs to have outdoor kitchens and a chuck box is a pretty good substitute if your RV doesn't have one.  For tent campers, a chuck box can deliver a lot of utility and convenience.  A chuck box can be carried in a pickup, SUV, or even in the trunk of your car.  Unless your RV has enormous "basement" storage compartments you may need a rear cargo carrier or a small trailer if you want to add one to your RV.  One advantage to building your own instead of buying one pre-built is  you can design it ti fit and make best use of the space you have available to transport it.

Chuck boxes originated for use in chuck wagons on cattle drives and wagon trains in the Old West.  They were designed to secure all the basic ingredients and cooking gear needed to provide meals for the cowboys moving herds of cattle across open range and across rivers -- no roads, no bridges.  They excelled at making maximum use of minimum space, conserving weight, and keeping everything dry and secure during what was often rather wild weather and rough travel.  They often had specific bins for basic ingredients like flour, salt, and sugar.  Keep in mind the cuisine on cattle drives wasn't fancy and everything had to be made from just a few key ingredients.  You may recall the warning "Cookie" gave the would be trail hands in the movie "City Slickers":  "You ain't getting no nouveau, almondine, bottled water, sauteed city food!  The food's hot, brown... and plenty of it!"   Which means they were pretty much eating beans and bacon and the coffee was boiled in a pot not a percolator and you had to strain the coffee grounds through your teeth, kind of like Army coffee! Here are some examples of chuck boxes:

                               Camp Chuck Box             cedarboxopen1.jpg

There are commercially manufactured chuck boxes you can buy (see Classic Chuck Box, but many people like to build their own.  The one shown in the link is freestanding on its own legs so it doesn't need a table or the back of a vehicle for a platform.  Buying one ready built is an attractive option if you don't have the tools or skills or desire or space to build your own.  Just check the dimensions carefully to make sure it will fit in your vehicle.  Building your own allows you to customize the size and shape to make maximum use of your available space to transport it and the accommodate the things you need to put in it and how you want to use it.  Consider the loaded weight as well as the size.  One that is too big or too heavy to move isn't going to you much good.  So building one that takes up the whole bed of your full size pickup probably isn't a good idea.  It might make an interesting conversation piece and be useful on your patio at home but if you can't pick it up and put it in the back of your vehicle it won't work for camping.  If  you find you can't fit everything in one box, you can supplement it with additional bins or design a second unit to provide additional capabilities as well as additional space -- if you have somewhere to carry it on your  camping trips.

You can design your own chuck box to fit your specific vehicle and your personal requirements.  There are two major limitations you need to take into consideration:  1) size and 2) weight.  The dimensions of your chuck box will have to fit within available space in the vehicle you plan to transport it in.  Another advantage to building your own is you can customize the shape to take advantage of available space in your vehicle.  Sometimes square boxes won't fit inside a closed automobile trunk.  You can get pretty big and fancy if you'll be using it in a pickup truck or large SUV, but will have to scale things down if your means of getting to camp is a sub-compact car.  If you make it too big, it won't fit in your vehicle.  Even if you have a large vehicle to haul it around in you won't want to make it TOO big or it will be too heavy to move, especially when you load it down with utensils, cookware, and provisions.  One solution is to build it in two or more pieces that can be easily moved and then quickly assembled in camp.  When choosing materials, consider that it will most likely have to stand up to rainy days in camp.  A good quality marine grade plywood would be much better than particle board.  Sure, particle board is cheaper, but it is also very heavy and tends to fall apart when it gets wet.  While you will probably want to have space on the front door/shelf for your camp stove and sink, you probably shouldn't try to store and transport the stove inside the chuck box.  That space could be better used for organizing ingredients and untensils.  Most stoves either are either self contained or come in pretty good carrying cases.  Designing your own chuck box  lets you choose the size to fit your available transport space and to customize features to accommodate your specific gear and camping style.  One innovation I found that I thought was quite interesting was a two-sided chuck box that opened to provide counter space on both the front and the back.  Such an approach gives more room for a stove, a sink, and food prep space for those of us who like to spread out.  One side might be used as serving space for a buffet style meal.

The rear outdoor kitchen in teardrop trailers is often based on a chuck box design.  For some ideas about how to build yours, stop by an RV show or a dealer and check out some teardrop trailers.  Some key features you will usually find are lockable drawers and cabinets to prevent things from falling out during travel.  Most of the storage spaces will be fairly small but actual size should be determined by your specific needs.  In some configurations the main door covers all the interior cubbyholes to keep things in place.  You'll probably need at least one cabinet large enough to store your cook kit or pots and pans.  It is often convenient and secure to have small, individual compartments or bins for things like flour, sugar, and spices.  You will most likely find it convenient to include some kind of sink even if its just a plastic dishpan.  It can be convenient to have a shelf or platform on which to set a water jug high enough so gravity can supply water directly into your sink or be available for cooking or drinking.  Another option is to use larger water jugs and a battery or manually operated pump to transfer water from the jugs to the sink.  The sink and water system are good candidates to be separate from the chuck box itself.  You'll soon learn you need the space in the box to corral all your kitchen items and provisions where they'll be secure in travel and easy to use in camp.   For smaller chuck boxes, the "sink" will probably be a plastic dishpan you can set on the shelf when the box is open.  The front of the box is normally hinged at the bottom so it opens out to create a shelf.  This is different than a teardrop trailer where the back is often hinged at the top so it opens up to form a canopy over the cooking area.   An umbrella or stand alone canopy can provide shelter over your chuck box.  If you're building your own you will probably find it well worth the slight extra cost to use piano hinges on the main door/shelf.  These hinges run the full length of the opening and distribute the weight better than individual hinges and are less likely to pull loose or twist during use.  You will want to waterproof the outside so it is resistant to wind, dust, and rain.  Ordinary residential foam type weatherstripping will help seal the doors.  Joints should be caulked and the whole thing sealed in a good quality outdoor paint or varnish.  You can be as creative as you like with the paint scheme.  Some paint them to match their vehicles, some just to be bright and cheery.  Or you might decorate it with favorite club, sports, or organization themes or logos.  You will  want to add sturdy handles so it can be easily moved in and out of your vehicle as necessary.  If you have large chuck box in the back of a pickup or SUV you might use it in place, but you still need to be able to load and unload it at home.  Smaller boxes you might carry in the trunk of the family car will probably be moved to the end of a picnic table for use.  If you plan to move your boxes often in camp you will definitely want to make sure they aren't too bulky or too heavy.  It would be good if they could be handled easily by one person, but if you camp with your family you may be able to manage something that requires two people to carry it.

If you want the extra convenience of a large chuck box but need to hold down the weight,  consider toting all the utensils, ingredients, etc separately in plastic tubs and just putting them in your camp kitchen when you get to camp.  While that defeats some of the benefits of a self-contained chuck box, it does give you the option for more storage and more food preparation space in camp while spreading out the weight for easier carrying.

A handy addition to a chuck box is some sort of canopy or umbrella to provide shade and protection from rain.  Something like a beach or patio umbrella might be attached directly to a large chuck box.  For smaller units you may want to employ a dining fly or a free-standing canopy which could also shelter the entire picnic table for eating.  Of course you may want some kind of canopy over the picnic table whether your chuck box is there or not.  Sometimes it is advantageous to include mounting brackets for a canopy or umbrella on the chuck box itself.

A friend of mine built what could be considered the ultimate chuck box.  He started with a large gas powered iron griddle (about 3' x 3') that had been part of a decommissioned Forest Service camp kitchen along with a similar size grill for steaks and burgers and a couple of large gas burners for stock pots etc. He converted all the orifices on the gas appliances from natural gas to propane and ran the whole thing from a large, mobile home size propane tank that fit under the cooking platforms.  It was all assembled on a small (4'x'8') trailer frame.  The lift-off lid had fold down legs to turn it into a convenient table.  A shepherds crook style lantern holder held a Coleman gas lantern high above the whole setup for ease of use in low light conditions.  The extra space left in the trailer around the stove and propane tank carried cook ware and utensils, ingredients, and condiments.  I helped him serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner to more than 100 people at a time using that trailer on several occasions.  It was quite fun to use and always drew a lot of comments from the crowd.

Chuck it!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Washing Dishes In Camp

OK, so what's so special about washing dishes in camp? After all, we all have plenty of experience washing dishes at home. And even if we're used to having automatic dishwashers, there are still times when we've all had to resort to washing dishes by hand, so what's the big deal?  Of course, for many of us, the best way of cleaning dishes in camp is to simply toss the paper plates into the campfire.  But even when we use paper plates there are usually some other, non-disposable dishes ( or pots and pans) used in preparing the meal that have to be washed.

If you're camping in an RV there is usually a tendency to wash dishes the same way we do at home. RVs have a similar sink(though noticeably smaller) and (hopefully) plenty of hot water. But doing things the same way in your RV or camper wastes water, fills holding tanks more quickly, and sometimes introduces garbage into the gray water tanks that cause odors or even blockages when dumping. One way to avoid these problems is to use disposable (paper or styrene) dishes. Then doing dishes is mostly as easy as tossing them into the campfire or the trash can. But you usually can't cook in paper or styrene and when you do use real dishes, there are things you can to do mitigate potential problems. First, clean your pots and pans and your dishes as quickly as possible when you're done using them, before food has chance to dry and "bake" on. Dump some water in them before they cool completely.  Then use paper towels or crumpled newspaper to wipe off the dishes instead of pre-rinsing them. If you really must pre-rinse, don't run water from your faucet to do it. Use a dishpan or an empty gallon jug to collect water while you're waiting for the shower to get hot and save that for pre-rinsing dishes. Dumping some of the saved shower water into pots and pans while they're still hot and letting them sit while you eat can make them a LOT easier to clean. Then use a good quality concentrated dish soap. It will cut grease faster and better than the cheap stuff and the smaller bottle will take up less room. Organize your dishes before you start washing. Do the things that require the least cleaning first. For me that is usually cups and glasses, then silverware. Bowls and plates are next and pots and pans last. Pots and pans will be much easier to clean if you dump some of your saved pre-rinse water in them while they're still hot, as soon as you're done cooking in them. That instantly begins to loosen sticky, stubborn material and it will continue to soften as it sits while you eat. (Yes, that is worth repeating!) For your final rinse, fill a dishpan or the second sink and dip items in it rather than rinsing under running water. These techniques will reduce water usage, minimize filling of holding tanks, and nearly eliminate accumulation of food residue in your plumbing and holding tanks.  Some RVs are now equipped with dishwashers, usually a drawer style under the kitchen sink.    Pre-clean dishes by wiping as described above and follow the manufacturers recommendations for detergent and rinse products.

Doing dishes while tent camping can be a tedious task. First of all, unless you're in a campground that has a dish washing sink available for your use, you'll have to do everything in one or two dishpans right at your site. You'll need to plan ahead and have a pot of water heating while you're eating so you have hot water ready when its time to clean up. You can do dishes in cold water, but the results may not be as sanitary as you would like and it will take more soap and more elbow grease.   Washing dishes in cold water may leave a greasy or soapy residue on your cookware and dinnerware.  That is definitely NOT a good thing!  A fellow scoutmaster once quipped he didn't worry too much about he boys getting their dishes clean because it "solved the constipation  problem".   I suppose you could consider diarrhea as a solution to constipation, but not necessarily one you want to encourage.  I strongly suggest is is well worth the time and effort to heat up some water for doing dishes.  You might put an extra pan of water on the campfire or on an unused burner while you're preparing dinner.   If that doesn't work out for you, take minute or two to fill a pan and put it on the stove so it can be heating while you're eating.  From there, many of the suggestions given above for RVers will be helpful to tent campers as well. Wipe off the dishes, put things in a logical order so you can do the ones that need the least cleaning first, use a good quality soap and remember to start pre-soaking pots and pans as soon as you finish using them. Once you're done, you'll have to dispose of the dishwater. There should be a designated dump location or you can dump it down the drain if there is community sink. Lacking either of those options (when you're boondocking for instance), dump it somewhere away from camp sites, trails and roads and at least 200 feet from any lake, pond, spring, well, or stream. Dump the soapy water first, then use the rinse water to rinse out the soapy dishpan as you dump it. Always dry your dishes and put them away right away. Sometimes it may be tempting to leave dishes out to air dry instead of drying them and putting them away. I don't recommend it. Leaving them out leaves them exposed to insects and vermin that might carry dangerous germs. Chipmunks and squirrels are cute running around camp, but I wouldn't want them walking on  or licking my dishes! They are not very careful where they walk so you never know what they might be tracking. And when it comes to flies, well, we all know what they've been walking on and we definitely don't want THAT on our dishes! Not even tiny little fly footprints of it. Not only is it unappetizing, it may contain e.coli bacteria, which can make you very sick.  Some campgrounds have community sinks where you can do your dishes.  Be sure to clean the sinks with detergent or an antibacterial household cleaner before and after use.  Don't pre-rinse your dirty dishes at the shared faucets.  That makes a mess that everyone has to deal with.  Pre-clean them at your site as previously described.

Hot water usually does a better job of cleaning than cold water, but in some situations you may have to resort to washing your dishes in cold water. You might find yourself in an area with fire restrictions where you can't have a campfire to heat your water and if you don't have an approved stove you're out of luck. You might have to use a little more detergent when using cold water, but you should still be able to get your dishes clean. Any greasy or soapy residue left on your dishes, silverware, or pots and pans, could lead to stomach distress and what is commonly known as 'the runs' so make sure they are thoroughly cleaned and well rinsed before you dry them and put them away. A scoutmaster I once knew said he never worried about making sure the boys got their dishes clean because it "solved the constipation problem in camp". Not sure what planet he's been camping on but from what I've seen, the more common problems when camping are just the opposite of constipation!  By the way, be sure to buy a good quality, concentrated dish soap.  It will take up less space in your RV cupboard or camp bins and will work better than the cheap, watered down stuff. You want something with good grease cutting power.

In a survival situation where you don't have any detergent, you can use ashes from you fire to scour your dirty dishes, especially pots and pans.  Really stubborn deposits might require rubbing with a little fine sand.  BTW, ashes mixed with cooking grease will create a kind of soap itself, so you can get things pretty clean that way.  You can make real soap from ashes and cooking grease or animal fat but it is time consuming.  Basically you start by leeching lye out of wood ashes, then mix the lye with animal fat.

Portable sinks can be useful in camp. But since they don't usually have a supply of hot water, you still have to heat your water on the campfire or camp stove. I have found portable sinks really handy for washing your hands and face or brushing your teeth, but not for doing dishes. Simple dishpans are a better size and shape for washing dishes. The cheap plastic ones from the dollar store will do the job, but heavier, better quality rubber versions will last longer and be less likely to crack in the middle of the job.

Doing dishes in camp doesn't have to be an onerous task. If you plan ahead, get organized, and use the right tools and techniques, it will go quickly and you'll enjoy clean dishes and avoid the 'runs' that sometimes result from poorly cleaned pots, pans, and dishes.

Portable hot water systems can provide convenient hot water for tent campers for dishes, showers, etc. They are a little pricey -- somewhere north of $100 but you may find them well worth the cost if your budget can handle it.  However, you can heat water for doing dishes in any pan or pot right on your camp stove or campfire.  A portable hot water system will also let you have hot showers, so it might be worth the investment.  Proper hygiene is essential for good health as well as comfort and presentability.

Wash up!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kitchen Utensils for Camping

You probably haven't given much thought to choosing kitchen utensils for camping. And that's OK. Most people have enough experience in the kitchen to know that they're going to need and just duplicate that, or as much as they think they'll need for camping. However, there are some choices for camping that work better than what you normally use at home and having dedicated utensils for camping will make loading and unloading for each trip easier. What you take with you may depend partially on whether you're in an RV or are tent camping. If you're in an RV, you probably want to maintain a pretty well stocked kitchen, similar to what you have at home. If you're tent camping, you may need to limit the amount of stuff you have to carry around. Even in an RV your drawer space will probably be a lot smaller than at home so you may want to downsize some items and seek multi-use tools to reduce how many things you have to sort through when you need something. You probably won't need everything you have at home. Your menus will, to some extent, dictate what utensils you will need.  If you stick to a simple menu, you should be good to go with basic utensils. Another factor is the potential to be cooking on a campfire.  For campfire cooking you will not only need fire resistant utensils, but you will probably want ones with extra long handles for  safety and comfort.

The biggest difference will be the need for durability and resistance to fire. The plastic utensils we favor to protect our Teflon cookware at home may not hold up to the rigors of camp cooking, especially if you're cooking on the campfire. Camping also brings frequent distractions and plastic utensils left in the pan may quickly begin to melt. I prefer solid stainless steel utensils, but steel items with wooden or heat-resistant plastic handles usually work well, are sometimes less expensive, and last a long time if you keep the handles away from flames. Old-fashioned porcelain covered "speckleware" has a nice pioneer ambiance and works well for camping. I have a meat fork, serving spoon, and ladle in "speckleware" or "graniteware". I also have a set of speckleware soup spoons that are fun to use. For really heavy duty stainless steel utensils, check out a restaurant supply store. However, you probably don't need to invest that much. I've used the ones I bought at my local "dollar" store for decades without any problems. The only issue I've had, is my wife liked my ladle so well she commandeered it for the home kitchen and I had to find another one.

Which utensils you need will ultimately depend on your menus and cooking style, but here are some basics most everyone will find useful:

      * cooking/serving spoons (I suggest at least 2)
      * slotted spoon
      * meat fork
      * spatulas (again I suggest having 2)
      * ladle
      * paring knife
      * small or medium butcher knife
      * dish towels and/or paper towels

 If you are into basting, you'll need a baster and/or a basting brush. I would get a plastic baster rather than a glass one since it is less fragile and less likely to break rattling around on the road. If you like spaghetti or pasta, a claw-style spaghetti spoon is good to have. You'll need some cutlery too. I like to have at least a couple of different sized butcher knives, a bread knife, and a paring knife or two. Having sharp instruments rattling around in the kitchen drawers dulls them and makes retrieving anything from the drawers dangerous so I like to keep them in one of the wood-block knife holders on the counter or cupboard and secure it with Velcro or small bungee cords.  Another good way to keep them safe and handy is to store them on a magnetic knife rack.

Make sure you have can and bottle openers. I once arrived in camp many miles from home and didn't realize until I started to fix some canned chili for dinner that I didn't have a can opener on board. Now I make sure I have manual can opener in my motorhome, in my truck camper, and in my tent camping tub. And I carry a supply of Army "P-38" or "P-51"can openers. They are small and sometimes difficult to use, but they are better than trying to open a can with a pocket knife.  P-38 and P-51 can openers are especially convenient for hiking and back packing but are a handy addition to any camp kit.  They take up almost no room.  P-38s are about 1 1/2" x 1/2".The P-51s are larger, giving  you a bit more leverage.  Either one can be carried on a key ring with your keys but I found the sharp edge sometimes cut my pockets.

Measuring cups have many uses in camp.  Most sets stack within themselves so they take up little room but collapsible measure cups are even more compact.  They can even be hung on the inside of an RV or chuck box cabinet door for convenient access without taking up much usable space.

An item I've seen promoted as the best kitchen utensil ever for RV use is a pot strainer.   This is a flat, crescent shaped strainer with a handle that you can use on just about any pot or pan, eliminating the need for a collander or bulky strainer.

Having dedicated utensils for camping adds convenience and helps reduce the possibility of forgetting something you need. I have a Class A motorhome, a truck camper, and a tent camping setup and I keep all three stocked separately so I'll have what I need when I need it without having to remember to transfer things for each outing. My RV and camper stuff is conveniently stored in the galley cabinets and drawers. Tent camping utensils reside in a translucent plastic tubs that are easy to transport to the campsite and keeps things clean and sanitary in camp and between trips. I know for sure from experience that if I have to switch things around for each trip, I will forget something!

Don't let these recommendations keep you from camping with what you have on hand. If dedicated utensils for camping aren't in your budget yet or you don't have time to get them before your trip, borrow from your kitchen and hit the road. Just be careful that you don't destroy or lose your home utensils in camp. When you are ready to buy a set of utensils dedicated to camping, check our your local dollar store or thrift store before spending lots of money in department or restaurant supply stores. That way, if something does get lost or destroyed, you're not out a lot of money and can easily replace it.  Sometimes it makes sense to upgrade your home cookware and re-purpose the old stuff for camping.  Also, before you head to the store, be sure to check out what you have on hand.  If you have duplicates you can spare or some old stuff you were saving to give to charity, you may be able to fill your camping needs without spending any money.  If painted handles have worn you can easily sand them down and repaint them to give them new life in your camp kit.  That way you can even make a matching set out of a bunch of odds and ends.  Using a unique color will also help you keep track of your stuff in camp and avoid getting them confused with other people's stuff or with  the stuff  you use at home.

Camp cooking is fun!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tent Camping Equipment: New vs Used

It would be nice if we could all start out with brand new equipment, but that isn't something most of us can afford and even if it were it might not be cost effective. After all, people who have money didn't get it by squandering it.  You may be able to make judicious use of year end clearances and liquidations to pick up some good deals on new items, but most folks will find it more economical to settle for some good used camping equipment. If it is used, but not abused, it should serve you well for many years at a fraction of the price of new stuff. Check your local classified ads, supermarket bulletin boards, web sites (like ebay and craigslist), thrift stores, and garage sales. Many times people collect extra equipment over the years and will dispose of their excess at cents on the dollar. A lot of used stuff is practically, and sometimes literally, brand new. Since camping is usually a part time leisure activity for most people, their camping equipment gets light use. People often purchase or receive as gifts items they never get around to using or only use once or twice.  And keep in mind it is only new until you use it the first time anyway.

Used tents. Tents are one of the largest expenses for tent camping. Here is where you can probably save the most by buying used equipment. And, since tents are not intimate items, there is relatively little danger of serious or offensive contamination unless they are really badly soiled and/or have a foul odor. Be sure to examine all the poles to make sure they are the right ones for the tent and are complete and in good condition. Count and inspect the stakes. You will need to replace bent, broken, or missing stakes. Check all the stake loops. Torn loops can sometimes be repaired, but make sure you know what you're buying and that you have the skills and tools to make any necessary repairs. For cabin tents, check the grommets where the tent poles connect to the fabric. If these are missing or damaged you may have to reinforce those spots before you can install new grommets. Check the sleeves where the poles go on dome tents to make sure they aren't ripped or the seams coming apart. Check the floor to make sure it isn't ripped or punctured or the seams along the walls coming apart. Check the zippers and screens on all doors and windows. You might be able to patch small tears in screens but zippers are difficult to replace. Sticky zippers might be fixed using a product like EZ-Snap lubricant.  However, if the zippers are damaged, keep looking. Don't forget to check the rain fly if it has -- or should have -- one. Make sure you have some idea of the new price of similar tents so you don't get ripped off. Anything at or below 50% of new retail is probably an acceptable price. I might be willing to pay slightly more if the tent is in nearly new condition and meets my requirements. Some brands will command higher resale prices because of the reputation and quality of the products, so do some price comparisons online or via the classified ads. Unless you urgently need a tent right now, take time to look around to obtain the best price and value. Watch the flyers from sporting goods stores. They often have special promotions that deliver exceptional value on new tents and camping packages, especially at the beginning and end of the camping season. Carefully check what is included in any packages to make sure you aren't paying for a lot of stuff you don't need or want and that the package price really is less than the sum of the cost of the individual items from other sources.  I got used 14' cabin tent for under $40 and a new 7' umbrella tent for $10 at a year end sidewalk sale.

Used sleeping bags. Since sleeping bags are rather intimate items, some people are reluctant to purchase used ones which can hold down prices. Keep in mind they can be dry cleaned, which will sanitize them, and usually will come out like new, if they haven't been abused. Consider the kind of weather you will be using them in. 10 degree bags won't keep you warm enough in sub-zero weather, but will be too warm for typical summer evenings in most camping areas. Consider the style. Mummy bags are good for keeping individuals warm but they limit movement and some people get claustrophobic in them. Rectangular bags can usually be opened and zipped together to form double sleeping bags for couples, good for added warmth as well as comfort and intimacy.

Used camp stoves. Used camp stoves can save you a bundle. The old fashioned white gas (Coleman fuel) stoves are plentiful and reliable. It is typical to find the pump may not work because the leather washer in it has dried out. Many times all that is needed is a few drops of oil to get it working again. If that doesn't work, the pumps can be easily and inexpensively rebuilt. A second major component is the generator. This is a tube-like structure that converts liquid fuel to vapor for the burners. If the generator is defective, it must be replaced. Again, this is a fairly easy and inexpensive DIY project (under $20). If the fuel tank is leaking, keep looking. Damaged fuel tanks are dangerous and cannot be easily repaired. If the burners are clogged they can usually be cleaned with a wire brush. Used propane powered stoves don't have pumps or built in fuel tanks; they use replaceable pressurized propane canisters. Be sure to keep an eye out for sales on propane canisters to keep your operating costs down. Another option is to get an adapter so you can use a bulk propane tank like the one for your home BBQ. The fuel is a lot less expensive than buying individual 1 # cylinders.  The last time I filled up my motorhome I paid $2.79/gallon -- compared to about $2.88 for two 1-quart canisters.  Thrift stores and garage sales are good places to look for used camp stoves.  I've seen 3-burner Coleman stoves for $8.00.  Even it it needs some work, it would probably be well worth that!

Used lanterns. These days there are many options for camp lanterns. The old Coleman gas lantern is a time-proven staple but there are many battery-powered alternatives available today, including LED lights that minimize battery drain and even lanterns with built in solar chargers. You may luck out and find battery lanterns at garage sales etc, but the venerable Coleman lantern is a more likely find. Just like camp stoves, steer clear of lanterns with damaged fuel tanks. Faulty pumps and generators can be easily and inexpensively replaced. You may even be able to buy a replacement for a missing or cracked glass globe. These are not universal or one size fits all, so do some research into availability before buying a broken lantern.  Now that LED lanterns have been around awhile you'll start seeing them on the used market too.  But even new ones aren't terribly expensive.  I've seen some very nice ones around $10.  LEDs use SO much less power than the old incandescant bulbs!  I left an LED lantern with 17 LEDs on overnight in my barn and it was still bright the next morning and for months afterwards!

Used cookware. Used camp cook ware and mess kits can be a good bargain. Even if they are blackened or dirty, they can usually be cleaned and sterilized and safe to use. Small, individual mess kits are not terribly expensive, even when they are brand new, so be aware of the price and value before you buy up a bunch of used stuff for your kids. You might be able to get new kits for not much more.  In choosing any cook ware, seek sets that are designed for camping. These will usually stack together for storage and will have multi-use components, such as a lid that also doubles as a frying pan. Camp cook sets often include plastic plates, cups, and flatware as well as pots and pans.  These types of kits save space and weight without sacrificing functionality. Cast iron cook ware is heavy to tote around but is practically foolproof and indestructible. It can be used directly in a campfire and even the worse burned on, sticky mess can usually be burned off and scoured and the pan re-seasoned. New or heavily cleaned cast iron cookware does need to be seasoned before using. Seasoning consists of coating the cooking surface with cooking oil and heating it until the oil burns away, leaving a coating on the surface. This applies to cast iron grills and griddles as well as frying pans and dutch ovens. Anytime a piece of cast iron cookware as been scoured or washed with detergent, it should be re-seasoned. To avoid re-seasoning, remove all food residue from the item, then rub it with crumpled newspaper or paper towels until all traces of grease and residue have been removed. Ordinary kitchen pots and pans can be used for camping. Thrift stores are a good place to look. Light weight aluminum pots and pans may melt if used directly in a campfire but they should be fine on a camp stove. Seek cast iron if you plan to cook directly on the fire.  It is heavier to lug around but it will last a very long time and stand up to plenty of hard use.

Used ice chests. There is little that can go wrong with ice chests. Make sure they don't have any holes or cracks in either the liner or the outer skin. Make sure the hinges and latches work. And make sure they don't smell bad! Some plastic liners absorb odors that can be very difficult to remove. You sure don't want your food smelling like dirty socks or like something that died! There have been many improvements in insulation and durability over the years. New ice chests are not too expensive, so you might want to check out your local Walmart before grabbing up older "bargains". For short term use, light weight styrofoam chests are really inexpensive, but they aren't very durable. Plastic ice chests are the next least expensive permanent solutions. Painted steel models used to be common but you don't usually see a lot of new ones these days. I picked up a couple of nice older Coleman steel ice chests on ebay. New stainless steel models are durable and often keep food colder than plastic models but they're somewhat expensive -- plastic chests can be found for $20-$50. Expect to pay around $100 for stainless steel. Size matters! Consider the space you have for transporting your equipment. Huge ice chests can hold lots of food and drinks but they may take up your entire cargo area and are very heavy to carry when fully loaded. Sometimes having a number of smaller chests will be more convenient (and less expensive) and the ice will last longer. Separate chests for drinks and perishable foods is a good idea. You will be getting into the drink chest more frequently and if it should run out of ice, the drinks won't spoil. Smaller chests are also easier to carry. Keeping perishable foods separate avoids exposing them to frequent opening of the chest and will protect them longer. Sometimes having a few inexpensive styrofoam chests is a good solution for separating and transporting items. They are also good for keeping your frozen or cold foods cool on the way back from the grocery store. Get the right size chest for you needs. You don't need a huge, $150 marine cooler to keep a six pack cold for an afternoon picnic and it probably wouldn't even do the job without filling it with many bags of ice whereas a small cooler and 1 bag of ice would easily and conveniently handle a six pack.

Camp chairs are not terribly expensive when they are new and to some extent are designed to be disposable.  That being said, you might still pick up some good used camp chairs.  Be sure to inspect them for bent or broken frames or damaged fabric or netting. Like so many other pieces of camping equipment, people tend to accumulate more than they need and you may snag a great deal on some good used ones.

Used camping tools.   Things like axes, hatchets, mallets, and folding shovels are handy to have when camping and used items in good condition will be just as serviceable as new ones.  You might have to sharpen an axe or clean and paint a shovel, but it will probably save you quite a bit over buying new.  Other candidates in the tools category might include knives and mallets.  Camp chairs and cots are pretty durable and used ones could save you quite a bit of cash you could use on something else.  Folding tables and "camp kitchens" are also nice additions if you come across them.

Save away!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Outdoor Cooking Options

One of the fun things about camping is not being a slave to the stove and oven to prepare your meals. Outdoor cooking can be fun and exciting. Sometimes preparing meals that are routine at home can be a fun and stimulating adventure in camp. My wife and daughter-in-law were giddy as two school girls as they prepared breakfast on our trusty Coleman stove when we went tent camping a while back.  And they weren't experimenting with new dishes, just regular breakfast favorites.  But cooking outdoors, in camp, together, made it special.  There are many options for outdoor cooking, depending on where you are (open fires are prohibited in some places) and how adventurous you want to be. Successfully making your favorite repast in the outdoors yields a special feeling of accomplishment. Heck, even being able to pull it off within the limitations of an RV rates a pat on the back. Outdoor cooking skills can be very useful in an emergency situation at home, such as an extended power outage or natural disaster. Ever think about what you will do if a disaster knocks out utilities in your neighborhood for a couple of weeks? If you have been using your camping trips to practice survival skills, you will at least be able to build a fire to warm you and your family, cook your meals, dry your clothing and bedding, and sterilize water for drinking and medical uses. You may purchase portable stoves for emergency use, but unless you've practiced using them, they are likely to be useless or even dangerous in a disaster situation. There is an old adage that I've found to be true:  If it hasn't been tested, it doesn't work!  Be sure you know how to use any emergency equipment you purchase and take time to practice using it. Also make sure you have proper fuel that is safely stored.

Campfire cooking. Of course cooking over an open campfire is the most basic form of outdoor cooking. Most all of us have roasted a few hot dogs and set a few marshmallows on fire this way (in my experience one seldom roasts marshmallows with turning them into torches).  One of the advantages to campfire cooking is that you don't need a lot of fancy equipment and, unless open fires are prohibited, you can build a campfire just about anywhere. Campfire cooking is also a good skill to develop for use following a disaster that may leave you without utilities at home. You may want to practice building a campfire and cooking in your own back yard until you're comfortable with the skills. Check out my previous post on Campfire Safety for more ideas on safely building and using campfires. As mentioned above, campfires are also sources of warmth and comfort and can help us dry out wet clothing and bedding. Having dry clothing and bedding could mean not only being more comfortable, but could literally mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation! It is possible to get hypothermia from wet clothing even in fairly mild weather.  The light and heat of a campfire not only warms the body, it warms the soul and lifts the spirits. As human beings, we find comfort in warmth and light and are often mesmerized by flames. Just sitting around a campfire can be entertaining and can lift depressed spirits enough to be functional again. Cooking over a campfire can be done by putting food on sticks (like hot dogs, chunks of meat, or even thick dough to make bread). For more conventional options, put a grid or grill over the fire and cook in regular pans. Lacking a grill you can position a couple of green logs over the coals or build a fire between them and rest your pans across them.  It is convenient to put the logs about 3" apart at one end and 8-10" apart at the other.  Then you can put your coffee pot or tea kettle on the narrow end and your frying pan on the wider portion.  Cast iron cookware can be used directly on the fire, lighter weight vessels may be damaged if place directly on the coals. I've seen light weight aluminum pans reduced to bubbling silver puddles by a hot campfire.  For best results, wait until the fire is reduced to a nice bed of glowing coals before cooking. It is safer and more effective than trying to cook over open flames. Even though you may have to wait longer for to coals to reach the right stage, things will cook faster and more evenly than they will over the flickering  flames.  And you can actually roast marshmallows to a nice golden brown without setting them on fire!  Campfires are sometimes prohibited in suburban neighborhoods, but cooking fires are usually allowed and during a significant disaster situation rules are likely to be relaxed.

You can cook other things besides hot dogs and marshmallows on a stick over your campfire. Just about any kind of raw meat (except ground meats) can be hung on a stick for cooking. You can also bake breads by mixing the dough so it is thick and sticky and wrapping some around a stick. Called "twist sticks", they are a very tasty bread treat for camping. No matter what you are cooking this way, it is best to cook over a bed of glowing coals, not over open flames. Most of us don't have the patience to wait for the fire to reach the right status for cooking, which is one reason so many marshmallows light up the nigh, becoming more torch than treat. Cooking over coals provides even heat that, with a little practice, allows you to roast your feast to perfection without turning it into a flaming torch or burnt offering -- or have it burned on the outside and raw in the middle! Take time to build the right kind of fire and let it reach the right stage of coals for cooking. It will pay off. Another option for bread is ash cakes. To make them, prepare a thick dough and form it into biscuit-sized patties. Then drop it directly on glowing coals or hot rocks  in the fire to bake it, flipping it over once to cook both sides if the tops don't cook fast enough. A little ash may cling to the biscuit when it is done, but usually not very much and you can just brush it off and enjoy great tasting hot bread fresh from the fire. They are especially good with butter and honey or jam.  You can even churn your own butter from whipping cream if you're feeling particularly adventurous.  Place some small pebbles (marble size or less) into a small container with a 1/4 to 1/2 cup whipping cream and shake until it forms butter.  If  you're using a glass container, don't shake it too hard or the pebbles will break the glass!

Not exactly a stick, but a useful campfire cooker is a pie cooker. These long-handled clam shell cookers turn two pieces of bread and a couple of spoons of pie filling into a hot tasty pie. It surprised me how much the bread tasted like pie crust when we took them out.  There are many commercial forks made for cooking hot dogs and marshmallows but an ordinary wire coat hanger straightened out will work almost as well. Some of the commercial forks have have telescoping handles so you adjust them to cook the food and not your front.  I've seen some with the tines bent around so they point back at you.   Supposedly they reduce the risk of stabbing someone with them.

Of course, there are things you can't cook on a stick. Soups, stews, hot water for coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and purifying drinking water, medical purposes, and washing dishes, requires a pot of some sort. If you plan to prepare these items often, a metal grate would be helpful. The grate from on old BBQ will work. You can also buy cooking grates most anywhere camping supplies are sold. Or just buy some sturdy metal grating from a hardware store or metal supply store. In an emergency or survival mode you may be able to use green sticks to support your frying pan or pots. Just keep an eye on them to make sure they don't catch fire and let your dinner drop into the fire! In an real emergency you might steal the racks out of your oven or refrigerator to use as cooking grids. Another technique is it bury a flat rock in the middle of your fire.  Make sure it isn't very porous.  Porous rocks often contain moisture and will explode when heated.  Then, after the rock has been heated by the fire, brush away the burned wood, set your pot or pan on the rock, and build the coals up around the pot on the rock or cook foods directly on the rock. This approach requires patience and planning ahead and cooking will probably take longer than cooking on a grid directly over the coals. You may also be able to carefully position rocks to support your pots and pans. If you have cast-iron cookware, you can even cook directly on the coals. DO NOT try this with light weight aluminum cookware unless you WANT to see it puddle in the coals while your dinner oozes and steams away! Lacking real cookware, you may be able to improvise temporary cooking containers using ordinary tin cans. They won't stand up to extended use, but you can usually heat up stew or chili in its original can and may be able to re-use the can several times before it begins to burn through. If you don't have any pots or pans at all you may be able to cook fish or pieces of meat on a "frying pan" made of green branches. Start with a forked flexible stick and form the ends of the two branches into an oval. The final shape should look kind of like a tennis racket. Then weave sticks up and down and across the oval. Attach your fish or meat by lacing extra branches over it and cook it to perfection. In a survival situation you may not have any pots or pans. You can make a bowl out of clay or even ordinary mud and fill it with water, soup or stew, then add small hot rocks one at a time until it reaches the desired temperature.

Building the right kind of campfire is critical to successful cooking.  As always, you don't want a bigger fire than you need.  Trying to cook on a raging bonfire is not fun at all.  Any minimal success is likely be tainted by food that is charred on the outside and raw in the middle.  And you're likely to roast your own skin about as much as you do the meal you're trying to prepare.  A really good fire for cooking is a Daktoa Fire Pit. This is one of the most efficient cooking fires ever. Some tricks for cooking on a regular campfire include laying two green logs across the coals.  Place them so they're not quite parallel, but have one end about 3" apart and the other end about 7" apart.  Place your coffee pot or tea kettle on the narrow end and cook in larger pats and frying pants on the wider end.  You can also use rocks to support your pans and, sometimes, you can cook directly on the heated rocks if you need to slow cook something.  Heated rocks are a good spot for baking bread.

Dutch oven cooking is popular among many camping enthusiasts. It can be done over a campfire, but is usually done using charcoal briquettes for better temperature control and more even heat. Dutch ovens are the old fashioned version of today's "crock pot" cookers. You can cook just about any thing in a dutch oven: main courses, breads, even cakes and other tasty deserts. Traditional dutch ovens are made of cast iron and are nearly indestructible. Today there are modern aluminum versions which are lighter to carry, but most campers still prefer the venerable cast iron ovens. You can fill them with goodies and let them simmer just about all day for a tender and tasty evening repast. Cast iron dutch ovens need to be "seasoned" before they can be used. This puts a coating of what is essentially burned cooking oil on the surface. This prevents rust, helps keep foods from sticking, and adds a unique flavor to meals. Cleaning a dutch oven mostly consists of scraping away the residual foods with a plastic scraper and wiping it down with paper towels or crumpled newspaper. NEVER use soap or detergent to clean a dutch oven. It will destroy the seasoning and leave a residue that may contaminate your food and give it an awful taste and possibly give you a case of the runs! There are many good web sites that give dutch oven cooking tips and recipes. If someone washes your dutch oven with soap, rinse it thoroughly and re-season it before using it again.

Emergency pots. If you find yourself without anything to cook in, you may still be able to boil water using hot rocks. Form a kind of bowl out of leaves or mud or hollow out a piece of wood -- or use a canvas bag -- anything that will hold water. Fill it with water. Place several small rocks (up to golf ball size) in your fire until they are hot. Then drop them into the water. Keep adding rocks (you may have to remove some of the cooler rocks so your bowl doesn't overflow) until the water reaches the desired temperature. If you have any canned goods, you can usually heat them in their original cans (be sure to open the can or at least punch some holes in the top before putting it in the fire. Otherwise, it might explode! Empty cans can be used for boiling water or preparing other foods. They can also come in handy for collecting water and capturing fish and game for food. You might yank the metal headlight "pan" off an disabled OHV and use it for a cooking pot.  I've even seen demonstrations of boiling water in a paper cup!  As long as there's water in the cup it keeps the paper from reaching its ignition point, but trying to use it over an open flame may cause the paper to overheat and ignite anyway.

In a survival situation you probably won't have any cooking pots.  You might be able to carve a bowl out of wood or make one of clay or even ordinary mud.  Then you can drop hot rocks into the water or other liquids in the bowl to heat them.

The Famous R2D2. An alternative to open campfires that is sometimes permitted even when open fires are prohibited is what our family calls "R2D2". R2D2 is an old washing machine tub we sometimes use for a fire pit. We've even had forest rangers borrow our R2D2 on windy nights. A tub from a dryer might work too.  They're usually larger, letting you build a bigger fire but making them more difficult to transport.  The perforations in either tub allow plenty of ventilation yet restrict the wind from scattering embers the way it can from an open fire.  The porcelain coating stands up to the heat and prevents rust. Most washer tubs have a center tube where the agitator mounts.  While that may get in the way of loading firewood, it does serve some useful purposes in camp.  For example, I use the tube to put a "foot" on the tub to get it up off the ground.  I mount mine on a stand so it is a few inches above the ground. This serves two purposes. One, you can get your toes right under it to get them warm on cold nights, and two, it brings the top of the unit up to a comfortable cooking height.  The stand consists of a cut down RV table leg that fits inside the bottom of the agitator tube and the outdoor tripod designed to let you use your RV table outside.  I mounted a round grate from an old back yard BBQ on a piece of pipe that fits in the center tube at the top of the washing machine tub, giving me a perfect cooking surface for burgers, hotdogs, corn on the cob, baked potatoes, etc, and for pots for heating water or cooking other things. Contact me (desertrat@desertrat.org) if you are interested in more information about acquiring the materials and building your own R2D2. I can't take credit for the idea -- or the name. In fact, we usually refer to ours as "R2D2 Me Too" since the original R2D2 belongs to a dirt-biking buddy from California. By the way the name is derived from the round, squat shape and the way the fire blinks through the perforations like the lights on R2D2.  When we are done with our fire for the night, I put a metal garbage can lid over the top, held down by a rock, to prevent any embers from escaping. All the left-over wood burns down to a fine ash by morning, without the danger of spreading hot embers in the wind. Then it can be dumped out and packed up for the trip home. The metal lid might also be used to protect the fire from rain that might otherwise put it out before you're ready to shut down.  When it is on its stand, the bottom is a few inches off the ground. This brings the cooking surface up to a more comfortable height and allows us to get our toes underneath to warm them up on cold nights.

The venerable Coleman stove. The camp stove, in white gas or propane versions, has been a staple of camp cooking for generations. These are fairly inexpensive, light weight and easy to transport, and allow you to prepare food outdoors about the same way you would cook on the stove at home or in your RV. You have nearly the same control over them as  you do your gas range at home or in an RV. Camp stoves are excellent resources to have in your emergency preparedness supplies. Just make sure you have the right fuel.   There are some stoves that are made for "dual fuel" operation.  They will run on either white  gas/Coleman fuel or regular unleaded gasoline.  There are light weight, single-burner back-packer stoves that run on butane. They are very small and light weight so they are easy to store and to carry. The fuel canister is about the size of a can of shaving cream. These are great for short back-packing trips but fuel could be a problem in any kind of extended survival situation. White gas and propane are usually much less expensive, but the larger stoves and fuel containers are not suitable for all situations (like back-packing). The little butane stoves often have built-in flint-and-steel or piezio-electric lighters. The larger Coleman style stoves usually have to be lit with a match or lighter or can be equipped with an add-on flint lighter. Make sure you place the stove on a solid, level, non-flammable surface. Cooking on either of these types of stoves is much the same as using a gas range at home. Make sure you have sufficient overhead and lateral clearance so that you don't set the trees or bushes or your tent or RV on fire. You may need to provide some kind of wind break in breezy conditions. Sometimes the breeze can be strong enough to blow out the flame but even when it isn't that strong, it tends to blow the heat away before it can do its job cooking your meal. Some gasoline powered stoves are built to run on either white gas (Coleman fuel) or ordinary unleaded gasoline. Ordinary unleaded gas is less expensive and will probably be more available in a disaster situation, so having a dual-fuel or unleaded gas stove has its advantages. DO NOT use your Coleman stove in a tent or structure that isn't made for cooking. Stoves require appropriate ventilation to function properly and to prevent you from suffocating as they consume oxygen and give off toxic fumes. Using a stove inside a tent also presents MANY fire hazards. In addition, cooking fumes will damage tent materials, reducing performance and longevity, and creating unpleasant odors that will be difficult if not impossible to get out. Most Coleman and similar style camp stoves have built-in wind protection. Open the lid and swing out the side panels and you've wind guards on 3 sides of your stove. Face the back of the stove into the prevailing winds and you'll probably be able to successfully prepare your meals in all but the very windiest conditions.

Camp Chef is another good brand for outdoor cooking options. Their products are usually bigger, stronger, and hotter than ordinary camp stoves. The Camp Chef stove we bought is a two-burner model with removable legs that lets it fold up into a compact package for transport and storage. Options include a BBQ box and very nice grill/griddle combinations that add a lot of flexibility to this stove. A 6" high wind guard is also available and helps a lot in windy conditions. A Camp Chef stove will easily accommodate large frying pants and stock pots for preparing meals for larger groups of people.  Available accessories worth considering include grill/griddles,  a BBQ box, and a sturdy canvas carrying case.

Portable propane BBQs. There are a number of portable propane BBQs on the market that are good choices for camping and picnicing. They use the small 1 lb. propane cylinders so they are easy to transport, set up, and use. They provide pretty much the same features as cooking on your gas BBQ at home, but in a smaller package. You can fuel these directly from the propane tank on your RV using an "Extend-a-flow" system that connects from the RV gas line to the stove. You will also want to protect these against wind. On more than one occasion it was windy enough that I gave up grilling hamburgers outside and had to fry them in a pan on the RV range. Again, DO NOT use BBQs or hibachis inside a tent or RV and avoid using them under an RV awning, a dining fly, or other fabric canopy.

Charcoal. Many people like cooking with charcoal. It is a fairly efficient method and, depending on the type of wood the charcoal is made from, can lend a pleasant taste to burgers and steaks grilled directly over the coals. Charcoal is also a good fuel for Dutch oven cooking. One draw-back is that it takes some time to get the charcoal going, so make sure you plan ahead and give yourself enough lead time. If you use charcoal lighter fluid to start your charcoal, you'll want to allow time enough for all the lighter fluid to burn away before cooking anything directly over the coals. Charcoal lighter fluid is not at the top of anyone's list of favorite condiments! Small table-top charcoal grills and Hibachis are popular choices for camping and picnicing. Personally I prefer the convenience of gas-fired grills. They light easily and heat up more quickly, fuel is cleaner to transport, and I don't have to worry about disposing of hot coals when I'm done.

Disposable charcoal grills can be useful when transport space is limited.  These are usually intended to be used once and thrown away.  They have lightweight pans that don't stand up to repeated use.  They usually come with the charcoal already loaded in the pan.  Just unwrap the whole works, light the charcoal, and you're in business.

Solar cooking. Now we get into some of the more adventurous and experimental techniques. Solar cooking is excellent in survival or disaster situations and is a clean and economic method anytime. You can find numerous plans for solar stoves and solar ovens on the Internet. While specific designs vary, they mostly use the same commonly available materials: cardboard and aluminum foil. The idea is to form reflectors that concentrate the sun's rays on the container you wish to heat. An efficient solar stove can boil water fairly quickly. Solar stoves are light weight, inexpensive to build, cost nothing to operate and can be used anywhere you have sunlight. A solar cooker would be an excellent thing to have in your emergency supply kit. In a survival situation you might make one using only aluminum foil.  You can buy ready made solar cookers too, but to my mind they seem to be a little pricey.

Cooking for a large group? Cooking for a large group obviously takes some special preparations. It is difficult to get everything ready for a lot of people all at the same time. I used to have two 2-burner Coleman stoves and one 3-burner stove I used for scout outings and larger family gatherings. Those were usually more than enough for extended family groups and even some Boy Scout and Church outings. I picked up a larger Camp Chef stove a few years ago. It has two very large burners and there are tons of accessories available for it, including a BBQ box and grill/griddle combination. It has its own adjustable legs so it can be set up level on uneven ground and I don't have to worry about finding a non-combustible surface to set it on. It runs off a portable propane tank like the one you use for your home BBQ or can be hooked to your RV propane tank via an Extend-a-Flow kit. I have found it very versatile for outdoor cooking. The grill/griddle is GREAT for steaks and pancakes. It is a bit large and a bit heavy compared to Coleman stoves. You would not want to take it hiking, but it is great for RV and car camping trips.

A friend of mine in California built the ultimate camp kitchen. He got hold of some surplus cook stove components from an old forest service camp kitchen that was being renovated. He bought a little trailer frame, like one of the kits you put a sheet of plywood on to make a 4x8 flatbed trailer. He built a steel framework to mount the stoves. He had a large (at least 3'x3') grill/griddle, a grate about the same size for cooking hamburgers and large cuts of meat, and a couple of big burners for heating pots of water. He enclosed the sides of the trailer and added a top with fold-out legs so, when lifted off the trailer, the top provided a large table for food preparation and serving. He added a tall lantern hook like a shepherd's crook for a Coleman lantern, and powered the whole thing off a huge propane tank like those used for mobile homes. It provided a truly professional cooking environment and was actually fun cooking for huge groups using his setup. The grill/griddle did dozens of hamburgers at a time and we could cook breakfast for 50 people or so (eggs, bacon, sausage, and pancakes) all at once so everyone could eat together. The extra burners heated water while we were cooking for hot beverages and for clean-up. If you come across some used restaurant equipment and want to make your own portable camp kitchen, keep in mind that the orifices used for propane and natural gas are different sizes and you may have to change them if the unit you purchase was rigged for natural gas.

Microwave ovens are more likely to be used in an RV than on a picnic table when tent camping, but if you're in a campground with power or have brought a portable generator along, you might use a microwave outdoors.  One of the advantages of cooking outdoors is that it keeps the heat and fumes out of your RV.   Serving a piping hot pizza or some Hot Pockets right from the microwave on the picnic table can be rather convenient.  And  you can't beat the speed at which microwave ovens prepare things for  you.  For example, you can whip up a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate in 1 minute.

Emergency meals. If you find yourself using your camp cooking skills in a post-disaster situation, knowing how to prepare simple meals with minimal resources will be advantageous. Be sure to try out some during normal camping trips so you'll know how to do it when disaster strikes. Foil dinners, also known as "hobo stew" are simple and can be cooked in a campfire or on a stove or BBQ. Simply wrap some meat, potatoes and vegetables (seasoned to taste) in aluminum foil and heat until the meat is cooked and the potatoes are no longer crunchy. If you are without pots and pans you can sometimes make do cooking on stones. Put some dry, flat, non-porous stones in the bottom of your fire for about an hour. When the fire burns down enough, sweep the ashes off with a handful of long green (not dry) grass, then cook meat, fish, eggs, etc right on the hot stones. MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) have pretty much replaced the old-time C-rations for military applications and are now available to civilians at most outdoor supply stores. They are pretty easy to transport and have a long shelf life but they tend to be a little pricey. Be aware that even though they come in sealed foil pouches, they are still susceptible to being chewed into by rodents.  Old-time C-rations make good emergency meals if you can get your hands on some. They still occasionally show up at military surplus stores. Sometimes they are released from Civil Defense Emergency centers when the facilities are retired or renovated. Even though the expiration date may have passed, they are probably still viable unless the cans are bulging or corroded. You may be able to heat canned food like chili, stew, soup or canned meat by placing the can on the exhaust manifold of your vehicle, either while it is running or while it is still hot shortly after parking it. Make sure you have a way to remove it without burning your hands! Wear gloves or use pliers to pick it up -- or use a stick to knock it off the manifold.  This was a favorite way to heat up C-rations when I was in the Army more years ago than I like to count.

Bon appetite!